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Landgate, Inc. v. California Coastal Comm'n

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 21236
Nos. S059847, 17 Cal. 4th 1006, (Cal., 04/30/1998)

The court holds that a delay in the issuance of a development permit partly owing to the mistaken assertion of jurisdiction by a state agency does not constitute a temporary taking. The state agency originally denied a landowner's application for building permits due in part to the agency's erroneous assertion of jurisdiction over the county's previous reconfiguration of the landowner's lot boundaries. The court first holds that an error by a governmental agency in the development approval process does not necessarily amount to a taking even if the error in some way diminishes the value of the subject property. The mistaken assertion of jurisdiction over a development is part of the development approval process, and development delays that result therefrom may be imposed on the developer rather than the general taxpayer without violating the U.S. Constitution.

The court next holds that the proper inquiry is not into the subjective motive of the government agency, but rather whether the development restrictions imposed on the subject property substantially advanced some legitimate state purposes so as to justify the denial of the development permit. The court then holds that the agency's denial of the permit advanced legitimate governmental interests in minimizing erosion and unsightly coastal development. The court further holds that nothing in the record establishes that the agency was motivated in its decisions by a jurisdictional argument with the county. There is no inconsistency between the agency's environmental concerns and the respective positions it adopted throughout the development approval process. Furthermore, the agency's conclusion, following the attorney general's advice that Public Resources Code §30106 gave it authority to deny the lot line adjustment, was supported by a plausible though perhaps erroneous legal argument and, therefore, is not the basis of a taking.

The court also holds that the agency's rejection of the property owner's development was at most conditional—nothing in the record suggests that the agency would have denied a development that fell within legally recognized, and environmentally more favorable, boundaries. Last, the court holds that the postponement of the property owner's development does not constitute a temporary taking of property as that doctrine was conceived in First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, 17 ELR 20787 (U.S. 1987). Nothing in First English is inconsistent with the recognition that a judicial determination of the validity of certain preconditions to development is a normal part of the development process, and the fact that a developer must resort to such a determination does not constitute a per se temporary taking.

The dissenting judges would hold that under First English the agency must pay compensation for the temporary taking that occurred while its total ban on development of the property was in effect.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Benjamin M. Reznik
Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro
2121 Avenue of the Stars, 10th Fl., Los Angeles CA 90067
(310) 203-8080

Counsel for Defendant
Joseph Barbieri, Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
2101 Webster St., 12th Fl., Oakland CA 94612
(510) 286-3822

Roderick E. Walston, Chief Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
1300 I St., Ste. 1740, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 324-5437

Before George, Kennard, and Werdegar, JJ.